BOCES OKs use of stimulus funding to pay for overspending

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The Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services board approved two measures Wednesday night that will assist with its financial quandary.

Board members unanimously approved BOCES' use of $273,000 of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for special education, pending state approval. And it unanimously approved nearly $240,000 in immediate cost-saving measures.

BOCES also presented a revised 2009-10 budget and reduced assessments for services this year. The districts were also told that when they pay this year's assessments, BOCES will cut them checks for the $777,000 in federal title program funding it owes them.

BOCES' six member districts learned in September that BOCES overspent its 2008-09 budget by about $317,000 and needed to increase assessments for this year's services by more than $481,000. BOCES initially had asked the districts to pick up the tab.

That created a problem for districts, which already had set their budgets - pending final approval in January - based on assessments presented in May for this year's services.

BOCES is a cooperative agency that provides state-mandated special education services to six school districts in Northwest Colorado. It also provides other services, such as preschool and the Yampa Valley School, the alternative school for Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt.

The stimulus funds for special education would be used to help make up for last year's overspending. Steamboat, Hayden and South Routt will pay the balance for their use of the BOCES day treatment program. The Routt County districts' making up the balance also was approved Wednesday night, by a 4-2 vote. Steamboat and South Routt representatives voted against the measure.

BOCES Executive Director Jane Toothaker said the Colorado Department of Education has not approved stimulus funding to make up for last year's overspending. Those stimulus funds originally were intended to help BOCES exceed "maintenance of effort," a federal requirement stipulating that programs and services for children with disabilities remain at or exceed those provided during the previous year.

Toothaker said an Education Department official indicated that BOCES probably would be able to use the funds. She said BOCES would find out whether it could use the stimulus funding in the next week or two. If the stimulus funds are not approved to pay for the overspending, BOCES will use the districts' payment for this year's assessments to operate.

The Education Department also is reviewing BOCES' financial information, and Toothaker is waiting to hear whether it makes any recommendations.

Not in financial positions to pay for the overspending or increased assessments, the district superintendents asked Toothaker to trim the assessments back to what they were when presented in May.

Toothaker reduced the assessments partly by proposing to use more than $472,000 in stimulus funding this year. Again, BOCES expects to find out in the next week or two whether those funds are available for that purpose.

Steamboat's reduced assessment was nearly $100,000 more than what was presented in May. That increase resulted partly because Steamboat sent 13 more students this year to the Yampa Valley School. Steamboat Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said because the district's budget was drafted after the May assessment, the district had not prepared for that expense.

Cunningham added: "I feel relieved that we have solved a big problem for BOCES, and I'm ready to move forward."

If BOCES is allowed to use the stimulus funding, the districts will be left with more than $154,000 in stimulus funding to use this year. Of that, about $45,000 would be available to Steamboat, and about $19,000 each to Hayden and South Routt. Half the funding is distributed equally to each district, and the remainder is doled out based on the proportion of each district's student count.

The immediate cost-saving measures - they're not considered budget cuts because a 2009-10 budget hasn't been approved - included reducing staff health insurance, scaling back mileage reimbursements, paying two staff members from stimulus funding and cutting contingencies.

After the regular meeting, board members convened for executive session to discuss a personnel issue relating to the BOCES administration. The board met briefly before asking each district superintendent to individually join them. The superintendents were each with the board in executive session for a few minutes. The board didn't take formal action after executive session.

"I feel good because I feel we have some direction to move forward," Toothaker said. "Good decisions were made tonight."

But Toothaker added that there's still work to do.

The BOCES board will decide whether to approve the revised budget, whether to approve using the stimulus funds this year and could have some recommendations from the Education Department at its next meeting Nov. 12.

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